New Delhi, Sept. 12: Motorists will not pay any toll for the period by which a private contractor widening a national highway overshoots the deadline, says a proposal sent to the cabinet for approval.
It adds that the toll will be slashed by 25 per cent from the day the widening project starts till the day the deadline arrives.
The proposal by the Union road transport and highways ministry comes after motorists complained about having to pay for driving on highways damaged by ongoing construction of lanes parallel to them. The move is also aimed at prodding the contractors to finish projects on time.
A toll is now charged only on highways with four or more lanes, but there is no exemption if some of the lanes are under construction. For instance, a private contractor can start charging toll on a two-lane highway from Day One of the project to build two additional lanes.
Contractors, therefore, lack an incentive to finish work on time. Widening a four-lane highway, on the other hand, brings no additional toll because it’s the length of a national highway and not its width that determines the rate.
“If a contractor is widening a four-lane road, he cannot charge a higher toll after completing the project — so why should he bother finishing it?” a ministry official said.
“Besides, the contractors fund the projects with the toll they collect instead of investing fresh money. The pace of the project, therefore, slows down since it depends on the trickle of the toll instead of a big capital investment.”
Under the proposed policy, motorists will pay 75 per cent of the toll while a two-lane or four-lane road is being widened. If the project is unfinished when the deadline arrives, they will pay nothing till construction is complete.
If the new policy is cleared, the government too will have to pull up its socks because bureaucratic tardiness is also a factor in highway projects getting delayed. Acquiring land and getting clearances from the environment and other ministries is the government’s responsibility.
“We have decided that tenders will not be floated for any project till 80 per cent of the required land is acquired,” the official said.
The proposed policy provides for a steeper penalty for overloaded vehicles and, unlike now, allows a higher toll on expressways (which don’t allow pedestrian crossings and have no traffic intersections) than on other national highways.
After much debate with the Planning Commission, which wanted the expressway toll to be several times higher than the highway toll, the ministry has proposed that the expressway toll will be 1.25 times the highway toll.
The ministry had been working on this policy for the past one year. The “zero toll” clause for exceeding the deadline owes to the new minister, Oscar Fernandes.
If the policy is approved soon, it will apply to the contracts to be awarded this financial year for the construction of at least 2,500km of roadways. The last toll policy was framed in 2008; the one before it in 1997.
Most highway projects are now awarded on a build-operate-toll mode. A private contractor spends his own money to build or widen a road and collects toll on it for an agreed period of 15 to 25 years. A portion of the collections goes to the National Highway Authority of India.
Highlights of the proposed national highway toll policy
• Toll for a four-lane road can be charged ontwo-lane highway the day widening starts
• No financial disincentive for private contractor for project delay
• Only 75 per cent of the toll can be charged from Day One of project till deadline
• If deadline exceeded, zero toll till project is complete